This Life: A life less ordinary

Manel Güell was diagnosed as HIV positive when only 23 and has adjusted his life plans accordingly

Many of us grow up making plans for our future. We spend our childhoods imagining and dreaming of exciting times ahead. For some, all of this abruptly stops upon receiving a life-threatening diagnosis.

I was 23 years old when I was diagnosed with HIV. It was a time in my life when I was leaving my parent’s nest, learning to fly and beginning to be the sort of person I had always wanted to be. As the initial shock of the devastating news started to wear off months later I started to plan an alternative life plan. Not knowing how long I was going to live I decided to take up a clay modelling class that led me eventually to doing a degree, which I finished in 1997. Art became an important tool to express all sorts of frustrations and fears in my life.

In 1994 I had my first serious opportunistic infection and was taken into hospital for the first time. During this time I was contacted by social services and offered the help I needed to carry on without having to worry so much about finances as well as the illness. This made all the difference to my life. Since then I have never stopped feeling grateful for the help I have received whenever I needed it and that I live in a country where the vulnerable and less advantaged are not completely forgotten.

From those early days until now I have had regular contact with hospitals, ranging from the 30-minute routine visits to three months in a hospital bed. Today, medication can help a great deal and life seems a more secure place for people like me living with the illness in developed countries such as England, although it is a very different story for sufferers in places like Africa or India.

In my case, although I have a more stable situation now than I have had in the last 15 years, I am constantly coping with issues from previous years and the side-effects from medication, for example, a-vascular necrosis (death of bone tissue), neurological problems in my legs as well as all the psychological and emotional damage and baggage I have picked up along the way.

Most of the sadness – such as when I didn’t know how to cope with the news of such a diagnosis, my fear of disclosing it to others and to the reactions of people around me once they knew – has been left behind. The associations of HIV and AIDS are many and a lot has been written about it since the beginning of the pandemic in the early 1980s.

Living with the virus has taught me a great deal and has shown me levels of strength I didn’t know I possessed. This illness has made me realise what is important in life and prioritise the things which are good for me.

All through these years I have managed to retain some of my dreams, something that has possibly helped me as much as the medication, family and friends to stay alive. I paint as much as I can and today my life is very different from the one I imagined as a child as in many people’s cases, I suppose.

Manel Güell is HIV positive and a volunteer for the National Trust

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